Reflecting on Colombia
The center of the city, Popayán proper, is a beautiful colonial city. A German in Cali said that my visit here would be refreshing after my time in the northern metropolises—he was right.
The weather is great (it feels like spring), and the clean streets are lined with whitewashed colonial buildings and mansions. I love any place where I can buy a skewer of meat, a small potato, and a huge ear of charcoal cooked corn on the cob for US$0.80. What a fantastic place to spend a night before doing the big push into Ecuador (necessary, as my visa expires tomorrow).
Thoughts on Colombia
This is probably one of the top countries that I've traveled through. The landscapes are beautiful, the cities modern, the people warm-hearted, and the cost of living relatively inexpensive (depending on your choice of lifestyle). If the mess with the guerrillas could be resolved, this would be an amazing place.
One traveler said that Colombia reminded him of Brazil, 20 years ago, before the tourism reached unacceptable levels. It's my perception that the country hasn't been spoiled by droves of 2-week tourists yet (excluding Cartagena), and the people are still genuinely interested in meeting and chatting with visitors.
The nationalities of the travelers seem to depend on the part of the country you're in. The Caribbean coast of Colombia is full of Israelis and Brits, while the southwestern (Pacific facing) cities are dominated by visiting Germans, French, and Italians. As usual, you can find an Aussie or two just about anywhere. North Americans are still scarce, but one tends to pop up from time to time.
I've noticed the color of the Colombian skin tone varies from region to region as well. Medellín is fare-skinned, the Caribbean coast is a darker tan, while the southwest is closer to black. I'm told the villages on the Pacific coast are totally black, vestiges of the labor that was brought into the region to harvest the sugarcane.
Cosmetic surgery is popular and cheap. I'm still surprised at the number of young girls I see with bandages on their face from a recent nose job, augmented breasts, and women in their 20's with braces on. I met a guy from Japan in Medellín who was recovering from laser surgery done to correct his vision. The cost of the procedure in Japan is US$6,000, while the same operation cost him only US$500 in Colombia.
As a traveler, I'm use to seeing people selling things at intersections, often moving between the cars idling at stoplights, but three sights in Colombia struck me as rather memorable:
- A man in Cali balancing himself on a very tall unicycle, while juggling four curved, Arabian swords for tips;
- The crosswalk of a city street in Bucaramanga, illuminated in the evening twilight by a talented fire-dancer (also working for tips); and
- A corner-side prostitute in Cali walking up to an SUV, chatting up the driver, and then hopping in—my first time actually seeing one get in a car.
I've skipped a lot of interesting things that I'd like to see here because of my limited 30-day visa, and my desire to continue sampling South American countries. This continent is like a big buffet, I'd like to give it all a taste and find out where I want to go back for a second helping later.
When I depart for my next continent (probably northwestern Africa in 7–8 months), I will most likely catch a cheap flight out of the capital of Venezuela. I'm thinking about boating up the length of the Amazon River into Peru (after the 2007 Carnaval), then hooking up through Colombia again for a second visit. I suppose there's always a chance I'll just fly out of the capital of Peru though (these are the two cheapest airports in South America for flights towards Europe). In the meantime, I'm still looking forward to arriving in Argentina, and will probably be there by early November.
Tomorrow I'll cross the equator, and officially enter the southern hemisphere for the first time. Neat.